Symbolism and hidden meanings behind the Sagrada Família

Antoni Gaudí was hugely influenced by religion and nature, but not all of the iconic basilica is his design

Detail of the Nativity facade of the iconic Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona
Detail of the Nativity facade of the iconic Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona / Sagrada Família

Cillian Shields | Barcelona

December 12, 2021 08:55 AM

September 19, 2022 07:28 PM


When you look at the Sagrada Família, there’s a lot going on. The level of detail can almost be overwhelming. 

There’s not one central tower or element capturing your attention, but rather there are many competing for it. 

Each facade is packed with symbolism and hidden meanings, with dozens of sculptures collectively telling the story of Jesus Christ. But what does it all mean?

The ‘Bible made of stone’

The primary architect of the work, Antoni Gaudí, wanted the basilica to represent ‘the Bible made of stone,’ as explained to Catalan News by Onno Schoemaker, a tour guide specializing in the exterior design of the breathtaking piece of architecture

During Gaudí’s lifetime, “a lot of the working class was illiterate,” Schoemaker explains, “so Gaudí wanted to tell the story of Jesus through imagery, through sculptures and visual elements, rather than through text.” As such, each side of the structure relates to a different aspect of Jesus’ life.

The three facades in place today represent the Nativity, which is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and life and nature in general; the Passion of Christ, showing the crucifixion of Jesus and his ascension to heaven; and then there’s the Glory facade, which tells the story of the message and teachings of Christ and Christianity.

The Sagrada Família is almost like a “story book,” Shoemaker jokes, and within each facade “you get specific elements of Jesus’ life story.” 


Antoni Gaudí envisioned 18 towers for the Sagrada Família, of which nine have already been built. The latest was complete on December 8, 2021, when the star that sits atop what will be the second-tallest tower once complete was lit up for the first time. 

These 18 towers have a lot of meaning behind them as well, they all represent different characters from the Bible. 

Twelve stand for Jesus’ twelve apostles, while four stand for the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, those who ascribed the Gospel. The star-topped second-tallest tower is named after the Virgin Mary, while the last tower, which will be the tallest once construction is complete, is in honour of Jesus Christ.

Once this largest one is erected, it will make Sagrada Família the highest church in the world, and the tallest building in Barcelona.


Once it’s complete, the tallest tower of the Sagrada Família will stand at a height of 172.5 metres. This is a very deliberate figure because it is just below the peak of Montjuïc, the highest point of the city of Barcelona. 

Gaudí wanted to ensure that no man-made object would overtake the natural world, as he viewed this as God’s work.

“There are different elements again when it comes to his inspiration from nature, sometimes literally,” Schoemaker explains. Gaudí would often create moulds from real-life animals, whenever possible, to use as a basis for the sculptures that would adorn the facades.

“Especially on the Nativity facade which is a celebration of life in general, there are so many little details of plants, animals, literal natural elements that were copied one-to-one precisely from real living things at the time.”

As well as that, some of the apostle’s towers are topped with colourful rounded designs. These are fruits, used as symbols to represent the fruits of the spirit and the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ.

If you're interested in learning more about the exterior design of the Sagrada Família, you can find Onno Schoemaker's walking tour at